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U.S. Military Preparing For Wars Over Natural Resources

by Jim Lobe

The Politics of Water
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Ten years after the end of the Cold War, the world is entering a new era in which competition over vital resources will dominate conflict and war, according to a U.S. scholar.

Much of that conflict will be over water and oil and will take place in areas such as Central Asia and the Caspian Sea, where resources remain relatively abundant and local governments are too weak to protect them, says Michael Klare, a veteran analyst of U.S. strategic doctrine over the past 30 years.

Klare, who teaches at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, argues that it is not only the United States that is preparing for such conflicts, but that all regional powers are focusing increasingly on how to protect or enlarge their access to vital resources over the next generation. His argument appears in "Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict," a book to be released this week.

"For over 40 years, from the late 1940s until 1990, the overarching goal of U.S. strategy was to create and maintain a global system of alliances capable of containing and, if necessary, defeating the Soviet Union," according to the book. "All other considerations, including the pursuit of America's own national interests, were subordinated to the all-encompassing mission of 'containment.'"

But this was an exceptional period in Washington's 200-year-old foreign policy, according to Klare. "With the end of the Cold War, resource issues reassumed their central role in military planning."

U.S. military exercises in tiny, energy-rich Central Asian nations
A major signal of such a change -- indeed, the one with which Klare opens his new book -- is the increasingly extensive joint military exercises undertaken by U.S. troops over the past several with armies in energy-rich Central Asian nations, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.

These exercises were not only designed to build up the military forces of those countries and encourage their independence from more powerful neighbors, especially Russia, China, and Iran, says Klare, but also to plant the U.S. flag -- and U.S. military might -- in a region which is believed to harbor as much as 270 million barrels of oil, or about one-fifth of the world's total proven reserves.

Similarly, Washington has been systematically building up its military ties in other key energy-producing regions, notably in the Gulf of Guinea where new offshore drilling technology is enabling oil companies to tap into oil and gas reserves that could only be dreamed of a decade ago.

Washington's Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), for example, made its largest investment ever in Africa when it agreed to support the construction and operation of a major methane plant in Equatorial Guinea, a focal point of the West African oil boom.

At the same time, Washington arranged for a private firm of retired senior military officers to begin laying plans for overhauling that country's armed forces. Now, the Pentagon is reportedly preparing its own bilateral aid program to the tiny country, once it can convince key members of Congress that the country's deplorable human rights record has improved.

Klare sees the virtually permanent deployment of a formidable U.S. naval force in the Gulf after the 1991 Gulf War as another example of Washington's policy priorities, but, he adds, it is not only the United States which is acting to ensure future access to energy resources.

The dizzying rise in energy demand in Asia, which cooled only temporarily in the wake of the 1997-98 financial crisis, is now resuming its tempo amid growing fears of shortages.

The South China Sea -- which is believed to cover substantial oil reserves -- has become the site of a "naval arms race" of almost half a dozen countries claiming rights to it. Indeed, it was while a U.S. reconnaissance plane was monitoring Beijing's naval activity in the area that it collided with a Chinese fighter last month, setting off a major international incident.

Foreign oil and gas -- ensuring access to which is certain to be featured prominently in President George W. Bush's soon-to-be-released energy strategy paper -- are by no means the only resources likely to fuel conflict in the coming years, according to Klare, some of whose other works include "Low Intensity Warfare: Counterinsurgency, Pro-insurgency, and Antiterrorism in the Eighties," and "Rogue States and Nuclear Outlaws: America's Search for New Foreign Policy."

The struggle over fresh water may be even more desperate in the coming years, simply because in vast areas stretching from North Africa to South Asia, "the demand for water is rapidly overtaking existing supply."

River basins where the situation is most acute are found within regions where population growth also is putting pressure on existing supplies and global warming may actually increase drought conditions.

These include the Nile, which flows from Ethiopia through Sudan to Egypt; the Jordan, which is shared by Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority; the Tigris Euphrates, which flows from Turkey through Syria, Iraq and Iran; and the Indus, whose tributaries run through Kashmir and nuclear-armed Pakistan and India.

"As population grows, and the need for water and food rises in tandem, each of the riparians will seek to maximize its utilization of the available supply. When the actions of any one of these states results in a declining supply for any of the others, the conditions are set for a clash over the distribution of water," according to Klare.

Conflicts will not only be between states but within states as well, particularly for control of minerals and disappearing stands of valuable timber, according to Resource Wars. It cites recent civil wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as well as recent internal conflicts in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia as possible portents of future conflict in developing countries where states are particularly weak.

The result is that conflict will shift increasingly to regions where there remain relatively abundant supplies of natural resources and which were generally neglected during the Cold War. "The result is a new strategic geography in which resource concentrations rather than political boundaries are the major defining features," according to Klare.

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Albion Monitor May 14, 2001 (

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